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The US forces in Iraq have every intention of creating a country in their own image - and that includes freezing out regional and local businessmen. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EH13Ak01.html Aug 13, 2003 US and the changing face of Iraq By Syed Saleem Shahzad KARACHI - As the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority struggles to restart business activity in Iraq, it is coming increasingly clear that as a matter of policy, most of the beneficiaries will be US-led firms, while neighboring Arab countries look as if they will be frozen out. There is a strong belief in the Arab world that post-Saddam Iraq was completely planned in Washington as a country free to be shaped under the US administration, culturally, politically and economically. Indeed, the shape of the new governmental infrastructure is a strong indication that traditional influences, whether of the former Ba'athist regime or even from opposition groups, will be kept at bay. Likewise, in the field of commerce, the influence of neighboring countries will not be permitted. The new dominant influences are free trade and representative democracy, which the Americans clearly expect to be remarked upon in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria. The theme of the new Iraq is thus very clear. It would be another outpost of US interests in the region, or certainly another US client state. The US obviously does not trust local Iraqis who were bred and born under Saddam Hussein. There is a feeling that the country was brainwashed with Ba'athist theory. Ultimately more than 400,000 Iraqi civil servants have been sacked. To replace the old system, the Pentagon has developed an organization of Iraqi exiles from the United States and Europe under the rubric of the Iraqi Reconstruction Development Council (IRDC). About 1,500 have returned to Iraq and are assisting coalition authorities in running day-to-day affairs in the ministries. They are helping the United States to develop a new system more suited to Western and US political philosophy. For example, Hazim Baker al-Suhail, previously in the Netherlands, came back to Baghdad when the Saddam regime collapsed. He is an adviser to the IRDC administration, working very closely with the United States on various projects. Speaking to Asia Times Online last Wednesday in Baghdad, Hazim Baker agreed with the theory that US administration aims to block neighboring countries' influence on commerce. "This is true, that the US aims to promote its own companies' interests in Iraq and wants to block the entry of neighboring countries in the rebuilding process of Iraq," he said. "We see this development as positive, as all Iraqi neighbors, including Iran, Jordan and Syria, are only interested in safeguarding their personal interests in Iraq. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait always promote their ideologies through their aid packages and NGOs [non-governmental organizations]." Obviously, this US attitude toward the region has its drawbacks. A Pakistani independent businessman who is associated with US forces in the supply network maintained that the prospects for clinching major business deals in Iraq are clouded with uncertainty as Washington grapples with governing the country without major regional influence. "These notions have created bottlenecks in contract awards and subsequently slowed down the process of reconstruction," the businessman observed. As should probably be anticipated at this stage, most main business activities concern contract awards to rebuild the country. As a long-term priority, the northern Kurdish region is being given a priority by the coalition authority. According to the chief executive officer of civilian affairs of the 404th Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, a team of engineers arrived in Iraq about 10 days ago with plans to build an airport in Sulemaniya as fast as possible. Once that is in place, northern Iraq is expected to take a fairly good share of Iraqi business activity. However, these developments apart, business activity is almost entirely being planned by the coalition administration, led by L Paul Bremer. A new legal framework has been developed that critics complain would utterly discard any role in reconstruction by Arab countries and keep their influence at bay. At a time when deals for Iraqi business have just begun, the coalition authority has begun to take steps that are a reflection of its bid to block Middle Eastern economic influence. A contract to build a mobile telephony system is the latest example. Under the auspices of the US-led authority on July 31, a tender conference was held in Amman for three Iraqi mobile-phone licenses, potentially among the most lucrative contracts to be offered in Iraq to date. One each is to be awarded for Iraq's northern, central and southern regions. However, rules laid down in the tender documents clearly suggest that US authorities want no role for any Arab countries. According to the tender documents, "No government shall directly or indirectly own more than 5 percent of any single bidding company or single company in the consortia." That single sentence bars all Arab countries from the contract, because all of the cellular-phone companies in the region are at least partly owned by the governments of their respective countries. That paves the way to boot out such companies as Kuwait MTC Vodafone, whose roaming services also briefly worked in Baghdad and which was planning to participate in the contract. The Kuwaiti government has 25 percent and thus would have to say goodbye to Iraq. Oil is a much more controversial issue. It is generally perceived that the economic influx of the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries is a sword over the head of the US occupation because it automatically brings in cultural and political considerations that ultimately shot down the agenda of the colonial powers in the region prior to World War II. The US presence and its hand on Iraq's oil resources were already shocking news for such countries as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which controlled the oil markets during the period when Iraq was operating under sanctions. News about the arrival of the first crude-oil shipment to the United States from Iraq has jolted Riyadh and Kuwait City. At present, Iraq's daily oil output is only 1.1 million barrels, far below the 2.8 million barrels per day before the war. However, the regional governments believe that as time passes, Iraq will increase production and simply break the Arab states' oil monopoly. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk